History of Gambling in Montana

1889

Montana’s new constitution makes all forms of gambling illegal. However, illegal gambling halls exist throughout the state. Nationally, scandals in lottery sales result in an anti-gambling crusade.

1910

Gambling is deemed illegal in every Western state.

1933

Prohibition is repealed. Bars reopen and gambling resurfaces. Pull-tabs become popular.

1937

The legislature passes the Hickey Act, which legalizes various table games in various locations if licensed by a county.

1945

The legislature authorizes the State Board of Equalization to license certain “trade stimulators” and “other devices” for nonprofit organizations and collect a tax on them. Illegal slot machines are located throughout the state as “trade stimulators.”

1949

The legislature declares a “law enforcement emergency” and allocates $40,000 to enforce gambling laws; then-Attorney General Arnold Olson complies.

1950

The Montana Supreme Court rules that slot machines and punch boards are illegal under the state constitution. Voters defeat, by a 4-1 margin, an initiative to legalize gambling.

1972

Voters approve a Constitutional Convention referendum giving the Legislature and the people authority to approve or disapprove gambling.

1973

The legislature passes the Card Game, Bingo, Raffles and Sports Pool Act.

1976

The Montana Supreme Court legalizes video keno as a form of live bingo.

1983

Voters defeat Initiative 92, which would establish a Gaming Commission and a limited list of games allowed by counties.

1984

The Montana Supreme Court rules that video poker machines (Draw 80) are illegal slot machines. (Gallatin County v. D&R Music & Vending, Inc.)

1985

The legislature passes the Video Poker Machine Act, which allows five poker machines per liquor license and unlimited keno machines. The law establishes license fees for machines, rather than a tax. In 1986, the state issues 2,887 video poker licenses.

1986

Voters approve the Montana Lottery.

1987

The legislature passes a 15 percent tax on video gambling machine income, effective in 1988. The tax is collected by the Department of Commerce.

1988

The state collects a tax on the gross income from video gambling machines, with one-third of the collections going to the state general fund and the remaining two-thirds to local governments.

1989

The legislature passes Senate Bill 431, which centralizes gambling regulation at the state level and consolidates all gambling statutes. The Department of Justice is assigned regulatory, enforcement and taxation duties.

1991

The legislature lifts the limit on the number of video poker machines and authorizes a total of 20 video gambling machines per liquor license. The Senate Judiciary Committee rejects a blackjack bill.

1993

The Senate Judiciary Committee rejects increasing the payout on poker machines from $100 to $800. No new forms of gambling are proposed or approved by the legislature. Nationally, gambling is on the increase as a result of state and federal law changes.

In Haman v. State, the Montana Supreme Court rules that gambling activity must be “…specifically and clearly authorized…and the statutes must be strictly construed…,” meaning that only those activities specifically listed in statute are legal in Montana.

1994

The state negotiates gambling compacts with four Indian tribal governments: Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Fort Peck and Rocky Boy. Three tribes fail to complete negotiations, meaning gambling activities on their reservations must be suspended. (Governor Racicot declares Crow compact no longer valid because of violations.)

1995

The Montana Senate passes but the House kills Senate Bill 187, which would have studied and put in place a “dial-up” computerized accounting and reporting system. The legislature passes House Bill 527, increasing the payout on video poker machines to $800 maximum. Attempts by some legislators to raise the gambling gross receipts tax fail in committee.

1997

The legislature rejects another request for an automated accounting and reporting system. The Gaming Advisory Council submits a bill for a compulsive gambling treatment program, which does not pass.

The state signs an interim compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, allowing gambling to resume on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

1999

The legislature approves House Bill 109 to create an automated accounting and reporting system and provides $2.46 million to develop the new system. The Gambling Control Division (GCD) is directed to solicit proposals for the new system.

2000

After two unsuccessful rounds of requests for proposals to develop the new accounting and reporting system, GCD signs a contract with Lodging and Gaming Systems (LGS) of Reno, Nevada.

2001

The state sues LGS for failing to deliver the automated accounting and reporting system.

The state and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes enter into a five-year gaming compact.

2002

GCD and the Department of Revenue initiate a combined application for gambling and liquor licenses.

2003

The legislature defeats a proposal to allow the creation of “Destination Montana” – an entertainment district with Las Vegas-style casinos in Butte.

2005

The 2005 Legislature approves legislation that clearly prohibits Internet gambling and defeats a proposal that would have provided for legislative involvement in approving tribal gaming compacts.

2007

GCD implements a new database and tax reporting system that allows video gambling machine owners to obtain permits and pay taxes over the Internet. The new database also allows paperless processing of liquor and gambling license applications. Once the various application materials are scanned, the rest of the process is done electronically, improving efficiency.

2009

Through Senate Bill 86, the legislature changes raffle prize restrictions. County raffle permits are no longer required and raffle regulation is now under the Department of Justice. Variations in bingo cards are allowed.

2011

The 2011 legislature approves legislation that authorizes video line games, creates a stale date for VGM win tickets, and increases the maximum prize payout for bingo to $800.  In addition, a rule was adopted to increase the bill acceptor maximum in VGMs to allow for $50s and $100s.